Friday, March 13, 2015

Lost Magic review

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Lost Magic (Taito, 2006)
Lost Magic is a tactical (strategic) role-playing game for the Gameboy DS. It's one of the first to come out for the DS, and it makes heavy use of the stylus and touch pad. The basic premise is that you the hero (Isaac) have inherited the ability to use Lost Magic. Your father, Russel, had lost a fight to the Diva of Twilight, and has since turned evil. Your job is to master all of the Lost Magic spells, return your father to the path of light, and beat the Diva once and for all. To do this, you need to collect monsters, and learn the spells.

(Opening story still.)

The spells consist of a series of scribbles you have to draw on the touchpad with the stylus. Get the scribble wrong, or if the stylus skips over the screen, the spell fails and you have to try again, meanwhile the enemy are attacking you in real-time. The spells are element based (fire, water, wind, earth, light and dark), have three strength levels, and you can combine them for greater effects. The spells use mana, and the higher-level the spell, the more mana used. The only way to build mana back up is to walk around the screen for 10-20 seconds. And this is where I start hating this game. Regular battles have a 5 minute time limit - take longer than that and you lose the battle. Isaac, and the monsters in his party, have a cap at level 50, reach that and your stats stop improving. Since max mana can't increase after you reach level 50, the number of times you can cast a spell is also limited, so if you find a monster with high defense and lots of hit points, no matter what type of element attack you use, you're going to find yourself casting the same spells over and over, running out of mana, walking around to replenish, trying again, and then running out of time and losing the battle. Isaac has almost no defense, so if you find yourself right next to an enemy monster you're probably going to die after taking 3-4 hits.

(World map. You can only move one space at a time, but in any allowable direction from where you're standing.)

There are about 50 storyline battles to the game and I'm at about number 35. I've reached a boss battle that I can NOT win, and I don't like the game enough to justify continuing to try. The artwork's not that good, and I don't like the spell system - the harder scribbles are complex enough that I either get them wrong, or the stylus skips on the screen and messes them up.

(Conversation screen, talking with the Earth magic master.)

There's no money system, so no stores and nothing you can buy or sell. All items are found in chests within battles, and you can only carry 12 or so items at any one time, so whatever you can't use you have to discard. Items are only used by the monsters, so the only way to boost Isaac's stats or skills is to level up.

(Battle map and stats screen. Blue represents your side, red is the enemy.)

One of the spells is "capture". If it works (which is based on how damaged the target is, and how strong you can make the spell for that particular element) then you can add it to your inventory (100+ slots). You can only put 3 groups of monsters in your party, with a total of 11 party points (which is what Isaac has capped out at right now). Some monster groups have 2 monsters in the group, others have 3 or 4. Some groups cost 2 party points, others cost up to 5 points. What this means is that you might have a party of shogs (3 shogs per group at a cost of 2 pp), hellhounds (3 per group, 4 pp) and some heavy hitter (2 per group, at 5 pp). Within the battle, you select monsters to tell them where to move, and they automatically start attacking, or healing themselves. That's all you can do with them. The idea is to keep your party between you and the enemy, because you've got such a low defense and not that many hit points, and you cast spells from the back line. The problem is that if you use the stylus to circle the monsters you want to pick, you either end up getting too many, or you include Isaac in the order to move by accident and then Isaac finds himself on the front line next to a monster that kills him. The system isn't very good for telling individual monsters where you want them to go, and you can't tell them anything more than, "move to this place then do whatever it is you do".

(Battle screen showing the landscape, and your side.)

Comments: I want to like this game, since I paid money for it (950 yen, used). I bought it because I liked the cover art, which reminded me of Hayao Miyazaki's "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind", and I'd hoped that the rest of the art or character designs would have the same feel. Overall, though, this is just a very generic game. It could have been better, if the spell designs were simplified and less prone to making mistakes. I really hate having to press the left back button to cast spells, because it's putting a huge amount of wear and tear on that button and it's starting to break. I may try playing it again some time, but right now I've lost interest.

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